About Schmidt

Year: 2002
Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne/Jim Taylor
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates, Howard Hesseman, Hope Davis

The most interesting thing about this movie was Jack Nicholson's talent. In the pure sense of the word, acting talent is defined as the ability for someone to make us believe they're someone else even though they have to use the same voice, face and body.

We all think we know Jack Nicholson's personality to an extent, personified by roles like those he played in Batman.The role or Warren Schmidt is closer to the role he played in Wolf - instead of a cheeky, strong-willed, sexually-charged and powerful man, he was a middle aged book publisher finding himself muscled out by younger, snazzier competition, questioning his virility as a man in his work and love lives with advancing years.

As Warren Schmidt, he plays an everyman faced with the trials of his age to the nth degree, epitomising the nightmare most of us face about our golden years, where (unlike retirement fund brochures which show us enjoying our beachside retirement homes and cheerily playing golf), most of us will live out our years searching for meaning that seems to have dried up along with our vitality, staring at walls and waiting to die.

With his office clock ticking over to five o'clock on his last day before retirement, Warren feels the ominous closing of a door to an era he'll never get back. There's now very little in his life - the skills he's used his whole career as an insurance actuary are now useless to him and everyone else. His home life is haunted by questions wondering what his life has been all about, questions he articulates in letters he starts writing to a sponsored child in Africa, including the one about his wife ("sometimes I look at her and say to myself 'who is this old woman who lives in my house?'")

After his wife's sudden death, he embarks on a bittersweet trip across the country to try and put a stop to his daughter marrying a redneck he can't stand. Although it and the characters in it comprise the bulk of the film's running time, they have little to do with his quest and it isn't always adequately conveyed, making me think it might have made a better short film.

But the final scene - where he seems to have hit rock bottom and realised his life has been meaningless before finally getting a reply from his sponsored child - is the emotional kicker, and Nicholson's crying face portrays such a feeling of justice, relief and regret (you're never sure which) that it makes the whole movie worth it, also cementing his well deserved reputation as one of the best actors alive today.

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